The greatest thing about music is its ability to bring people from all walks of life together. While pop-rock band Constant Coogan and folk artist Mike Rufo might find themselves classified under quite different genres, it’s clear they’re both very passionate about issues in our world today. This passion is what makes today’s Bands Interviewing Bands so special as these seemingly dissimilar artists pick each others brains about their influences, advice and social issues.
Mike Rufo: You have a very strong, passionate history with show tunes and music in theater. To what extent does that influence the Constant Coogan sound?
Constant Coogan: Musical theatre is a pretty strong influence for us. I (Jen) have always been a fan of classical musical theatre, such as Rodgers and Hammerstein, while Matt was influenced by more modern musical theatre like Andrew Lloyd Webber. So put together, it’s quite a broad inspiration. Not to mention we have been in several musicals together too. But we are also constantly surrounded by so many other styles and influences from rock to rap to classical, so it’s hard not to mash them all together.
CC: As someone who is both a soloist and in a band, how do you determine what material works for each project?
MR: So far that has actually been fairly easy because of two pretty distinct differences between my solo project and the rock band, No Exit, that I co-front with David Johnson. No Exit is a very eclectic mix of original rock with classic influences. While it’s not all hard rock, that is certainly part of No Exit’s core. In contrast, my solo stuff is more mellow, reflective, and acoustically focused, so stylistically I can usually tell right away whether a new song is a Mike Rufo tune or a No Exit song. All that said, the line can get blurred in that I sometimes try to nudge a Mike Rufo-ish song into the No Exit repertoire to see how it flies in the rock band environment. No Exit has been super flexible and cool in being willing to try different material and continue to stretch into an even wider range of styles. For me the two really feed on each other in a positive way.
MR: Your music covers a lot of rich, emotional themes, and can also take some humorous turns. Are there particular underlying themes that you would say are at the core of your songwriting?
CC: Although life certainly has its ups and its downs, we feel incredibly blessed. So, it’s hard not to have hope and happiness woven throughout our music. We believe that happiness and gratefulness directly relate to having a better life. Optimism is not just a theme in our lives and our music, it’s what we hope our audiences take away as well.
CC: As an activist for economic and social equality, what causes are most important to you, and how do you hope to affect them with your songwriting?
MR: Ah, where to start! On the one hand, there are so many individual causes that I am passionate about; on the other hand, I try to come back to what are, for me, the most foundational, structurally significant ones, like peace, economic/social justice, the environment, and civil liberties. Peace is both internal and external; we can’t have world peace without personal peace and a consciousness transformation that sets the intention. Of course, an integral part of peace is social and economic justice. Environment is so basic that it’s typically invisible to humans and utterly taken for granted despite its fragility and the fact that we are literally nothing without it. As for civil liberties, without the right to dissent, to associate, to express, people cannot collaborate, innovate, and mobilize to make manifest that better world that we know is possible. Songwriters all over the world have always been at the forefront of these kinds of movements for social change. For myself, music and activism have always been connected. Some of my songs, especially earlier ones, have an awareness building element, peppered with action-oriented doses of outrage. Lately, though, I’ve shifted to a more subtle approach that focuses more on the personal, metaphorical, and, hopefully, inspirational.
MR: Bury Me Alive, your new single and EP, is about to be released. What does this EP represent for you, both the material itself, and for your trajectory as artists?
CC: Bury Me Alive was a very personal project for me. The single “Bury Me Alive” is about battling shyness and social anxiety which has been something I have struggled with for most of my life. That feeling can almost feel like you are being buried alive. You feel so much pressure and literally watch your life flash before your eyes. So having that on the forefront of this piece of work has allowed me to not only help spread a message of hope to others who are struggling with it, but heal myself a little as well. In fact, every song on this EP has pieces of our hearts, our hopes, and our love for each other, but we also had a great time getting a little edgier and rockin’ out.
CC: What is the most important advice you could give to someone who wants to be a songwriter in today’s day and age?
MR: Probably the same advice that has been given to me, more than once, by some very successful, hard working, and super talented songwriters: “Be yourself and stay clear about why you are doing what you do.” Sounds basic, and it is, but it’s sort of like meditation and mindfulness. It’s easy to get caught up in a bunch of goals that are coming from the external world, to be “successful” I should “do this” or “do that.” Fill in the blanks; there are tons of these and they go on and on, as most independent artists know only too well. But which, if any, of those things are really essential to your art and mission? Maybe all of them, maybe none, maybe a few. For me, coming back to the music itself is always the key to re-grounding and clarifying what’s important right now.
Follow Constant Coogan: (For fans of: Evanescence, Alanis Morissette)
Follow Mike Rufo: (For fans of: Leonard Cohen, Nick Lowe, Steve Poltz)
Bands Interviewing Bands: Constant Coogan and Mike Rufo. Photo credit: Constant Coogan by Kevin Lane Photography (left) Photo credit:Tamarind Free Jones for Mike Rufo.